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Before it became the site of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the Route 91 Harvest festival was one of a handful of concert blowouts aiming to burnish the Las Vegas Strip’s reputation as a live-music destination.
Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Sam Hunt, Lauren Alaina, Big & Rich, Lee Brice, Maren Morris and Jake Owen were all on the bill for the three-day, sold-out festival at Las Vegas Village, which attracted 25,000 guests a day to the same event last year.
The 15-acre plot near Luxor and Mandalay Bay is one of two open-air venues on the Strip owned by MGM Resorts International.
For years, event organizers have been trying to turn the Village and the much larger Las Vegas Festival Grounds into preeminent destinations for music fans in a city with unlimited entertainment options.
The Live Nation-promoted Route 91 Harvest, which launched in 2014, was the first festival in Vegas dedicated to country music.
Route 91 was a success out of the gate and served as an example of what could be pulled off on the Strip. In its inaugural year, when Aldean, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert headlined, the event lured 30,000 fans to a parking lot that had been converted into a festival space.
Aside from the main stage, the festival boasted a platform for emerging acts (called the Next From Nashville stage), line dancing and, because it’s Vegas, nightclub-like lounges on site from sponsors such as House of Blues and Malibu Rum.
In 2015, MGM attempted to up the ante on the festival front with the massive, multi-genre Rock in Rio at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds. Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars and No Doubt headlined the inaugural, two-weekend event.
As with Las Vegas Village, the Festival Grounds acreage once housed vehicles: It served as a recreational vehicle campground for Circus Circus before MGM decided to diversify its entertainment offerings and explore outdoor festival events.
At 40 acres, the Festival Grounds is much larger than Las Vegas Village, the latter of which also hosts the iHeart Radio Music Festival’s smaller “Daytime Village” lineup. However, with the exception of the 4th ACM Party for a Cause Festival in April 2016, the Festival Grounds venue has gone largely unused since Rock in Rio quietly decided not to return after its first year.
As Route 91 grew in popularity, MGM wanted to explore moving the festival to the larger space but festival organizers had a different idea: Keeping it smaller and more low key. That's what the popular Life Is Beautiful festival has done each year in downtown Vegas.
“The ‘look’ of that site … is one of the things that makes Route 91 so great,” Live Nation executive Brian O’Connell told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last year amid chatter of a move. “The casino’s bright lights and that real Vegas look. You go north, you lose a little of that, and we don’t want to lose Vegas. That’s why we are here.”